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Grow your contact list — and your business.

More than 50 per cent of Canadians believe entrepreneurship is a good opportunity. However, many (37 per cent) don’t try because they’re afraid of failure, according to a 2014 Global Report.

If you’re a small business owner, or are planning to launch a business soon, take the time to strengthen your network — forming new relationships both inside and outside your industry will not only provide emotional support and essential advice, it can also help you meet future clients and investors.

Are you ready to expand your small business circle? The following four tips will kick-start your goal:

  1. Connect with social media: LinkedIn®, Facebook®* and Twitter® are channels through which small business owners can gain brand exposure, customer contacts and potential sales leads. In fact, approximately 90 per cent of small business owners now dedicate time to networking online, according to a MantaMD**. Moreover, according to a BMO® report, 78 per cent of millennial business owners operate a social media account (with half discovering great ideas for their business through social!), and 22 per cent of business owners have found new customers via social media. Ready to get started?
     
    • LinkedIn can help you find employees and customers — and raise your profile in your industry. Consider creating a company page (separate from your personal page) that highlights keywords relevant to your business, which will help other users find you. Joining small business-related groups can also help you make contacts and add to your credibility. Check out Business News Daily’sTM‡‡ 15 LinkedIn groups every entrepreneur should belong to for ideas. 
    • Did you know 20 million Canadians use Facebook? Connect with potential customers by creating a company Facebook page. Post often, and respond to questions quickly — brands that reply quickly can now earn a “very responsive to messages” badge on their profile.
    • A recent Twitter survey found that 72 per cent of users were more likely to make a purchase from a small business they follow on the site — primarily because it makes them feel more connected to the company. Check out these tips on how to grow your business on Twitter.
       

    Note that, while these sites are free to use, writing and posting regularly can be time consuming. If you have room in your budget, you may want to consider hiring a social media manager to handle the work.

    Related: Create a winning social media game plan

  2. Interact with industry members: Don’t automatically disregard all industry members as competition. A strong network of colleagues can provide recommendations, guidance and, potentially, new customers through referrals:
     
    • Industry advocacy, sales and other conferences, for example, can help introduce you to other entrepreneurs and professionals who work in your field — or a related one. Before attending an event, research speakers and attendees so you have an idea of who you’d like to meet.
    • Professional associations can provide a wealth of industry contacts through education, business networking and other events. Search for one that relates to your industry — or an industry your suppliers or customers work in — by sector, province or name on Industry Canada’s trade association/organization directory. (Note: This includes a list of Women’s Business Associations.)
       
  3. Attend events: General small business networking events (ones that aren’t industry specific) could connect you with clients:
     
    • More than 7,000 small business groups connect through Meetup and host in-person events in their cities. You can also try Eventbrite (they host many free networking events) and NetParty, which hosts events for young professionals in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
    • Small Business BC, the Canada Business Network and other organizations post events for local entrepreneurs. Also, look for your local Chamber of Commerce to learn more about networking, professional development and policy events (as well as membership costs).
    • Futurpreneur Canada is a nonprofit organization that offers access to more than 2,800 business professionals who volunteer as mentors, financing of up to $45,000 and other assistance for business owners age 18 to 39.
       
  4. Meet contacts in unexpected places: Networking doesn’t have to be limited to networking-specific events:
     
    • Social events, from dinner parties to volunteer opportunities, can also serve as a source for business investors, allies and other contacts.
    • Co-working spaces are also a great place to meet other small business owners and budding entrepreneurs.

     
    If small-talk makes you nervous, remember: Try to find common ground with people, ask open-ended questions, and show a genuine interest in their answers. It gets easier!
     
    For more advice, try 10 business blunders to avoid — plus discover the top five traits of a successful entrepreneur.
     
     
    MD** Registered trademark of Manta Media, Inc.
    ®* Registered trademark of Facebook, Inc.
    ®† Registered trademark of Twitter, Inc.
    TM‡ Registered trademark of LinkedIn Corp.
    TM‡‡ Registered trademark of Business News Daily, Inc.

     

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